ASIAN AND PACIFIC ISLANDERS IN UTAH STORIES OF SUCCESS

BY VY TRINH AND JENNY GOLDSBERRY

Read until the very end to see how you can help a local museum keep a collection of stories just like the ones you’re about to read.

Just because Asian American and Pacific Islander month is over, doesn’t mean we’ve stopped appreciating their stories of triumphs. This month, we at Connection Publishing want to highlight some very important histories that happened right here. Read until the very end to see how you can help a local museum keep a collection of stories just like the ones you’re about to read.

The first Asian immigrants to the area came thanks to the railroad. Chinese workers made the journey halfway across the world to build the transcontinental railroad. They were there when the Golden Spike was hammered in Ogden, to mark the final touch on the railroad. Once the railroad was done, they helped build stations along it. Ogden Union Station was only the second building in the area, and it was largely built thanks to the help of these Chinese immigrants who stayed to see the project through.

Some workers stayed in the foreign state of Utah for good. The Union Station Museum has kept a record of some of these early first generation Asian people in the area. Some sold tableware and others sold cuisine, but all of their early merchandise reflected their home country’s culture. Many stayed at the Marion Hotel while they ran their businesses along 25th street. You can visit the museum and read about the stories of these first entrepreneurs. In this article, we’ll focus on contemporary examples of successful people in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities right here.

Henrick Le and family

HENRICK LE moved to Ogden in 2001, after being born and raised in Vietnam. At the time, he didn’t even speak English. He hit the ground running and started going to school at Ogden High. He remembers his first day he went to class instead of lunch. His teacher tried to explain to him it was lunchtime, but he didn’t understand and simply smiled back. So, his teacher took him by the hand into the lunchroom. That left an impression on Henrick because in Vietnam teachers weren’t so friendly.

Meanwhile, he was raised by a single mother. All of Henrick’s growing up she worked as a nail tech at L.A.L Nails on Washington Boulevard. Even now that he’s grown and out of the house she still works in Ogden, but now in manufacturing.

As Henrick made more friends, he started to want to be a part of American culture. He thought a great way to embrace the culture and community would be to join the military. His own grandfather was a Major in the South Vietnamese Army. All growing up his grandpa told him war stories that inspired Henrick to follow in his footsteps.

“If my grandpa can do it, I can too,” he told himself. So, he improved his English and signed a contract with Army National Guard in 2009 and now he serves in 4th ID MCP-OD under 204th Maneuver Brigade of the Utah National Guard. His mentors helped him study English and go to college at Weber State University. His wife also attended WSU.

Once, his mom asked him: “Why don’t you study hard and be a businessman instead?” But, that just wasn’t what he wanted. “I’m serving my community in a different way,” he told her. “I want to be successful in the military with the flag on my shoulder. That’s my dream come true.” He’s also found a sense of camaraderie because now he knows what unity really means. They’re his family and he’s proud he chose to serve alongside them. His unit is a counterpart to the 4th infantry division too, so he’s connected with people serving in the Army overseas. His unit was deployed with 4th Infantry Division in 2019 to support the Resolution Support Mission in Afghanistan.

Now, he’s a captain in the National Guard. He has a wife and five-year-old daughter.. “Without them, I would be unable to serve the country and the community,” Henrick says.

The Yu family

THE YU FAMILY moved to Ogden in the early 1980’s. They were from Taiwan but they had previously lived in Columbus, Ohio, Chicago, Illinois, and Memphis, Tennessee. During the early years, only the parents, Eugene and Rita could afford to live in the states. Their three children Sheree, Denny and Kerry stayed with family members in Taiwan until they could afford to all live there. Meanwhile, Eugene and Rita took any job they could, gravitating towards the food industry. They worked as waiters, cooks and dishwashers for those first years. Eventually they built themselves up to open Peking Restaurant in Memphis.

Later, when they moved to Ogden, they moved as a family, plus grandma. In Ogden they had a friend and also a closer location to fly to Taiwan from. So, they bought a remodeled home on Riverdale Road. Out of that house they ran a restaurant called “Maple Garden.” Eugene and Rita served Chinese food. They kept it at that location for 10 years. Eventually it became so popular that they moved it to Washington Boulevard and stayed for over 20 years.

Their son Denny started a fast casual restaurant version of Maple Garden called “Maple Express” in the early 2000’s. He opened it nearby its premier restaurant, on 12th Street just off of Washington Boulevard.

“I guess it’s our livelihood,” Denny told the Standard Examiner. “It’s what we know, what we do best.” He runs it to this day.

Then in 2013, the Yus sold Maple Gardens and pursued their true dream: a Japanese restaurant. Tokyo Station opened in 2014. On the other hand, Maple Gardens crumbled under new management. Teppanyaki-style Tokyo Station however still stands at The Junction. As a result of its success, Eugene and Rita expect their children to carry on the legacy.

“He had it built for the kids to eventually take over,” Kerry told the Standard Examiner in 2016.

Daughter Sheree also stayed involved in the restaurant business. In the fall of 2019, she revived Maple Gardens, also at the Junction. She even brought back dishes from the original premier. The Yus have Denny running the Maple Express, Sheree at the helm of Maple Gardens, and Kerry managing Tokyo Station. However, Eugene and Rita are still there, loving it too much to retire.

To close, we at Connection Publishing are asking for your help on behalf of the Union Station Museum. Curator Holly Andrew is in the process of creating an exhibit called “Ogden at its Core,” to tell the stories of early residents. Her focus lately has been on these Asian immigrants. But, she’d like to solicit your help to understand their personal histories. So, if you think you can help her, drop by the Union Station Museum to share what you know.

VISIT HOLLY ANDREW at the Union Station Museum today to share your Asian American heritage. She needs help recording the personal histories of folks she currently only has the names for.

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